The effects of canals and roads on hydrologic conditions and on the health of Atlantic white cedar at the Emily and Richardson Preyer Buckridge Coastal Reserve in North Carolina were evaluated by using data collected from the 1980s to 2006. Water levels were monitored along two transects established perpendicular to roads and canals in areas of healthy and unhealthy Atlantic white cedar as part of a study conducted from February 2003 through March 2006. Because of the low hydraulic gradient at the Reserve, the rate and direction of water movement are sensitive to disturbance. Canals increased drainage and contributed to lower water levels in some parts of the Reserve, whereas roads, depending on orientation, impeded drainage. Canals also appeared to facilitate movement of brackish water from the Alligator River into the interior of the Reserve during storms and wind tides. Data indicate that an influx of brackish water occurred in mid-September 2005 several days after the passage of Hurricane Ophelia. Although precipitation amounts and wind speeds associated with Hurricane Ophelia were not large, substantial changes in specific conductance occurred at the canal site on the unhealthy Atlantic white cedar transect. No corresponding increase in specific conductance was observed at the canal site on the healthy Atlantic white cedar transect.
The specific conductance of water samples from canals and piezometers was highly correlated with concentrations of chloride and sodium. Ion ratios of some of the water samples, particularly samples with high specific conductance, were similar to those of seawater. Thermal and chemical stratification of water in the canals occurred during summer and winter months, and turnover and mixing occurred in the spring and fall. Upwelling of ground water as a result of excavation for roads did not appear to have a significant effect on the water quality of samples from the canals or piezometers. The specific conductance of water samples from piezometers installed in the root zone of healthy stands of Atlantic white cedar generally was lower than in water samples from unhealthy stands. This pattern also was observed in samples from piezometers installed on the transects and in other areas of the Reserve. Roads appear to have isolated some areas of the Reserve from the high-conductivity water in nearby canals. The paths by which brackish water entered the Reserve cannot be determined from the data obtained during this investigation. It appears that water can enter the Reserve from various directions, depending on wind patterns and water levels in the Alligator River.